Through the bhangra beat

For years I have been a farmer but in the evenings I am a bhangra star recording songs, says Balbir Jagga.

Afp October 27, 2010

PATHANKOT: As Balbir Jagga drives a tractor around his farm, he dreams that the fields he tills will propel him to international music stardom.

Jagga, like thousands of other amateur singers in Punjab, sees bhangra music as his ticket out of rural life. “For years, I have been a mundane farmer but in the evenings, I am a bhangra star, recording songs for my album and planning a video shoot,” said Jagga at his farm in Pathankot, 150 miles from Punjab’s state capital Chandigarh.

Jagga, 30, is one of many Punjabi villagers trying to repeat the success of Jasbir Jassi, Mika Singh and other big names. He has penned more than a dozen songs and hopes his music video will be the next step to stardom.

Jagga admits that he is taking a big gamble investing all his savings in the video, which will cost more than $10,000.”You may laugh at my venture but for the people of Punjab music is the biggest high and I am addicted to it,” he said.

Bhangra originally began with Sikh farmers like Jagga singing folk songs to celebrate the arrival of the harvest season before developing into popular music. It spread across India via Bollywood and has gained popularity in many other countries. Today it attracts an international audience with dance competitions and radio stations in Britain, the United States and Canada.

“Bhangra is an integral part of Punjab’s everyday life,” one of Jagga’s heroes, Jasbir Jassi, told AFP. “We are crazy for our music and we have made the world go crazy for it too.”

In Punjab itself, at least 45 channels play non-stop bhangra music, often with videos from amateur singers hoping to make it big.

Industry experts and owners of recording studios estimate that more than 10,000 Punjabi music albums are produced every year. “It is a mad race among farmers, students and even housewives to establish themselves as a singer,” said Ramandeep Singh, manager at Josh, a 24-hour music channel in Chandigarh.

Singh says many artists currently ruling the bhangra scene in India such as Satinder Sartaj were once farmers and is now producing an album which will feature 12 farmers singing about the struggle of amateur performers who cannot break into the music world.

Deepak Bali, owner of the Plasma Records Production Company, admitted that the music industry has given false hope to many Punjabis. “All the hype and over-exposure surrounding the billion dollar market has the potential to kill the craze for bhangra,” he said. “The quality is missing and every village seems to have three singers and four lyricists.”

But the dream lives on for many, including Sukhdev Kaur, a housewife and a mother of two who is due to release her album Adventure Meri Life next year.

“My husband refused to help me so I decided to sell the gold,” she said. “We are farmers but that does not mean we cannot be bhangra stars.”

Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2010.

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